Everything You Need To Know About Innovation You Learned In Grade School

“I wish someone had told me how important my sixth-grade science class was going to be in leadership,” says Scott Roen, VP of Digital Marketing and Innovation at American Express–after all, it’s the first place you learn to test a hypothesis.

“I wish someone had told me how important my sixth-grade science class was going to be in leadership,” says Scott Roen, VP of Digital Marketing and Innovation at American Express.


Sixth grade was when he learned about the scientific method and how to develop and test a hypothesis. Roen believes hypothesis testing is critical to innovation because, “by definition, innovation is new, it hasn’t been done before, and the outcomes are unknown. The key is to test your hypothesis and get your learning as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s what the Lean Startup methodology is all about.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a method pioneered by Eric Ries (author of the popular blog on entrepreneurism, Startup Lessons Learned), which tries to rework how startups are built from the bottom up.

Fast Company sat down with Roen, who is participating in our upcoming Innovation Uncensored event, to discuss his thoughts on innovation and leadership.

People tend to think of innovation as an “aha” or “light bulb” moment, but most successful innovation is much more structured and disciplined.

FAST COMPANY: How do you define innovation?


SCOTT ROEN: Industrial designer Jay Doblin’s “Ten Types of Innovation” framework has demonstrated that organizations that integrate multiple types of innovation together have a higher likelihood of succeeding, and so I look at new concepts and ask which of the ten types of innovation are addressed.

Can you provide an example?

We may uncover an incredible new feature to add to OPEN Forum, but does it leverage our network in an innovative way, does it redefine how we service customers, does it uniquely leverage our brand? If it does, we’re hitting four of Doblin’s ten innovation types. If we’re focused on just one type of innovation, we are missing big opportunities and limiting our success. When you look at some of our recent breakthrough successes, such as driving over 100MM people to shop at local businesses on Small Business Saturday, you realize this was more than an “aha” moment, it was disciplined execution across multiple components of innovation.


What’s the biggest blind spot in leaders today, and how do you correct it?

We work closely with a startup, Percolate, that introduced us to Stock and Flow, a concept that Robin Sloan described a couple years ago that I think plagues leaders in a big way today. The idea is that there are two kinds of quantities in the world, Stock, which is durable and lasting, and Flow, which is a stream of sub-daily activities or updates.  

Why do you think it “plagues leaders today?”


The reason I say that is, historically, we have been focused on developing stock, products and services that take time to create, but that last. Developing the next Ford automobile or Amex credit card takes time, months or possibly years. However, today, it feels important that we’re creating news and dialogues all day long. Tweeting, Pinning, Liking. The latter can seem all consuming, even distracting, but it is important to find new ways to create real authentic dialogue with customers and prospects. Stock AND Flow are both important and hence the blind spot. If you’re looking directly at one, you take your eye off the other. If you do that for too long you are likely to crash or at least not realize your full opportunity. There’s no easy way to correct this, you just need to find the natural balance that feels right. Be self-aware and course correct as you go.

This post is a part of series, giving readers a sneak peek at some of
the speakers and the ideas we’ll be discussing at Innovation Uncensored on April 18 in New York City.

Here’s a quick look at some of the other speakers featured:

  • Bob Bowman, President & CEO, MLB Advanced Media
  • Millard Drexler, Chairman and CEO, J.Crew Group Inc.
  • Sarah Robb O’Hagan, President, Gatorade, a division of PepsiCo
  • Bob Lord, Global CEO, Razorfish
  • General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal, U.S. Army; Cofounder, The McChrystal Group
  • Stefan Olander, VP. Digital Sport, Nike
  • Ajaz Ahmed, Founder and Chairman, AKQA

If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time! Click here for more information.

We invite you to share your own thoughts on innovation and leadership in the comments below or in our Innovation Uncensored LinkedIn Group. Join the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #IU12.

Follow Scott Roen on Twitter. Follow Jocelyn Hawkes on Twitter.


About the author

I was previously the Special Projects Editor at Fast Company. I curated content and booked speakers for Fast Company events such as Innovation Uncensored, Most Creative People, and Masters of Design